Friday, March 16, 2018

What is Stories of the Wyrd?

Funny thing about most authors on social media is how difficult it is to find our actual writing. Our pages lack mention or links of what we’re working on, what we’re selling, what we’ve done. Some make one status update and then believe that it’s easy to find in the multitudes of posts proceeding it. Some have plastered their pages with their story, and yet the way they went about it yields no effect; their wallpaper of their cover art is poorly positioned and illegible or outright ignorable. Their book covers don’t even look like book covers. Their post about “five star reviews” doesn’t mention the title or provide a link. A good number of writers have generic pennames and titles that do not elicit any results in a Google or Amazon search. Some of us don’t talk about it much. We don’t advertise, and we even can expect people to already know what our work is, so why badger them with it? It is amazing how many of my Facebook friends have likely lost a sale from me simply because they made it far too hard to find any mention of their books. But I’m no better.

When I first started becoming active on social media, I had been published in literary journals and had a few small play premieres in Los Angeles, but no books for sale, nothing really to send my readers to. As I’ve said before, writing in isolation is difficult, and having an online presence is sometimes said a bonus to your credibility for agents who are considering picking you up. I decided to start building up my fan base before I had a big product to pitch because it was something I could do that would make me feel productive while I wallowed away in my room, hacking out pages on my computer, and waiting to hear back from places I’d submitted to. It gained me a little bit of control over my career.

Every once in a while I would get a message from someone interested in checking out my books, to which I had to reply that I had none available to the public yet. They would ask me why I’m not advertising, and it was simply because I had nothing to advertise. In ways, it was hard to tell someone who was going out of their way to learn more about you that what they saw was what they got.

I started Stories of the Wyrd for the same feeling of futility that made me turn to social media. I have been writing for years and years, and for the first ten or so it wasn’t a big deal to never have anyone read it. In fact, for the first half I really didn’t ask anyone to look over my writing and it didn’t bother me. Of course, I believed that I would be published within the next three years or so if I ever just forced myself to edit and submit. Then I got to a point where I very much wanted to improve my work and really go out to get external feedback. But feedback and criticism isn’t the same as having a simple reader, and within the last few years it started to get overwhelmingly frustrating to always be writing and never be read.

I have completed manuscripts of course. I have many that I’ve gone through several drafts, that I enjoy, and that I could see as being good enough to be published—one day. But none of them are ready, they’re just not quite right. I know that I could do more with them and so I refuse to do anything with them.

Three years ago, as I realized just how long it would take me to get a book out even if I chose to self-publish, as I started to fixate on marketability, nitpick on words, tone down my voice, and severely restrict myself based on what I felt agents would want to hear, I knew that I needed to find an outlet for my creativity, a place to experiment, to take risks, and to stop worrying so much about what other people think.

More than that, I needed to stop writing in a vacuum.

The Stories of the Wyrd idea came from me misunderstanding a description in a article. They were discussing how The Terminator was stolen from a horror serial back in the day, and I thought, I want to write a serial of shorts! While they had actually been referring to shorts as in T.V., something akin to the Twilight Zone, the idea had already been planted.

I didn’t want to post online fiction because no one reads it. I don’t in particular because it is so likely to go abandoned, it is often a first draft and there tends to be mistakes of plot holes and loose threads, not to mention the typos. As an interesting example, The Martian originally took off after Andy Weir started selling it for a dollar. For whatever reason, novels available on a blogging site put me off, and I attribute it to the lack of accountability. I would rather go to the trouble of downloading an ebook than read a chapter by chapter posting.

Meanwhile, I had happened upon Leigh Bardugo’s “The Witch of Duva,” and this amazing short story had me hooked from beginning to end and haunted me long after I finished. It was because of this piece, available for free online at the time, that I went out and bought her novel, Shadow and Bone.

Prior to my Terminator epiphany, I had considered online short stories. A few of mine were already available through some of the e-zines and online copies of the journals I had been published in, but most of my short stories are different than my typical voice. I didn’t feel like they were a grand demonstration of what my novels are like.

And I’m not a big fan of short stories. There are some anthologies and short story writers that I love, like Tobias Wolff, Stephen King, and Chuck Palahniuk, but they tend to be authors I’ve already known or just lauded enough that I finally do venture to give them a chance.

My main motto in writing is to not be a hypocrite, even if I know people differ in opinion. That means that while I am allowed to write about the things I like (whether or not everyone likes them), I also cannot think something I don’t like is different just because it’s me doing it. So while I know there are people who like short stories, because I don’t, I have to tackle the problem and try to figure out what I don’t like about them.

What bothers me about short stories? What bothers me about novellas for that matter?

You start to get into them right when they’re over.

I have commitment issues, especially when it comes to books. I tend to get attached to things quickly and being betrayed or disappointed is intolerable. When I start a novel, I rarely let myself abandon it. I spend a lot of my initial introduction refusing to invest any emotions into it, which, unfortunately, makes me enjoy it less.

In a novel, this isn’t a big deal. By around page thirty, you start to get to know the characters, understand the world, and get a vibe for who the author is and his perspective, if you can count on him, if he’s lazy or ignorant or really has your best interest at heart. Those first pages in which I am refusing to let myself care or feel for these people (not until I know this writer isn’t going to screw me over) are boring, but it’s not that big of a deal because I have several hundreds of pages to enjoy now.

With short stories, by the time I start to realize that I’m enjoying it, that I like the characters, or that I’m interested in where it’s going, it’s over.

And, I know. If short stories are so short, then why can’t I just expect to enjoy it, invest my emotions and time, and get over it when they fall short? Because I’m defensive, damn it. My feelings are easily devastated by being misplaced. And most short stories are terrible, especially from an author you’ve never heard of before.

Bardugo’s short story was the exception. Hers I liked purely on the merit of that story alone. Usually, when I do like them, I like anthologies, and the connection they have with the author. The writer, his voice, his attitude, his philosophy, becomes a character in itself, and so I feel the attachment to him, a trust in him, and instead of having to reset every new story, I am far more comfortable in their world.

So I had been mulling around the idea of writing online short stories, but I didn’t think I would do it. I just couldn’t see it as being something I (a reader) would be interested in.

But this Twilight Zone idea seemed to solve the problem I had with online fiction. While writing episodic short stories—stories with a standalone plot and solution—my readers wouldn’t have to worry about if I finished the project or not because they would be, in theory, satisfying on their own. Yet, I wouldn’t have to worry about the difficulty of investing in short stories because if you did grow to love the characters, they would return.

In January 2014, I decided to spend the year stocking up stories featuring the same characters to then post online. In December 2014, I premiered the website with four of them. Today I try to post one on the first of every month.

Rasmus and Kaia were originally protagonists of my twelfth manuscript, Silver Diggers. Kaia had been one of the first female characters to act as I originally envisioned instead of being a mouthy know-it-all who could only be considered humorous when laughing at her. (Freudian.) Her relationship with her brother was the charming obnoxiousness of Calvin and the wise, sarcastic watchfulness of Hobbes that I had been wanting to achieve for some time. I loved the characters and had great hopes for them.

It was written way back in 2011, featuring siblings who lived in a loosely Scandinavian world, featuring folklore in the vast wilderness and the industrial growth in the cities. A sort of steampunk meets dark fairytale. They were traveled the poor villagers and attempted to solve their problems of the supernatural. What they couldn’t find, they made up.

I decided to change the manuscript into the serial for several reasons. One featured my original intention, that Silver Diggers would be an episodic novel, and that there would be the set up and the conclusion, but many different conflicts and plotlines in between.

It didn’t quite work out. The premise wasn’t strong enough to hook the reader in, and many of the stories felt disjointed and rambling. It didn’t read episodic as much as messy, and as I took to editing it, I found myself changing the entire vision to a more traditional plotline. I added in a main conflict to be introduced after (what I call) the cold opening, and cut a great deal of chapters that were stand alone and seemingly unrelated.

When I realized that Silver Diggers’ original vision was akin to what I wanted for the serial, it became obvious that, even though it meant it would never be bound and sold as I originally had hoped, it could better become what it truly wanted to be.

And not only did I have all of these side stories and plot arc that would be great in this medium, the fact that Rasmus and Kaia were brother and sister meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with a “will they or won’t they” storyline throughout the entire series, but rather allow them to have relationships and break-ups as they will instead of dancing around it for however long the series runs for.

It made a lot of sense.

I don’t remember exactly what caused me to change the name from Silver Diggers to Stories of the Wyrd, but it seems more fitting anyway. I never was really in love with Silver Diggers (a reference to the selfish and scheming nature of gold diggers merged with the power of silver against supernatural forces).

Stories of the Wyrd is exactly what it sounds like.

While the Wyrd, in reality, is a Celtic idea meaning personal destiny, I used the term to title the supernatural world in which the creatures and monsters leak out from. Few actually witness the boundary, but when they do, it appears as a vague, gray void, flooding out from nothing, the insides dull and empty.

It shifts around the region, but avoids larger parts of humanity, only targeting villages stationed far from the larger cities, ones who are collecting unique resources, escaping persecution, or are wayward stations between two frequently traveled points.

I used the word for two reasons. One, we’ll be honest, it sounds like weird and rolls off the tongue well. Two, more aptly, it is a supernatural and enigmatic force that has uncontrollable and frightening influence over humans. But mostly that first thing.

Stories of the Wyrd is a pet project, something enjoyable for me, an escape in which I can take chances and write tales in the way that I like to read, even when I know that I’m the oddball out, or worse, am still interested in things already discussed long and thoroughly before I touched them. It is a series of unchronological shorts featuring sarcastic characters in a supernatural world and is, more than anything, what I want to write in the way I want to write it.

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